Laying around last night watching "Rain", a Beatles tribute band on PBS I started thinking about 1968 and what a pivotal year it was in not just the life of this country, but my life as well. The big three that stand out are Lyndon Johnson's address to the nation announcing he would not run for re-election, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.
Growing up in a small town in north-central Kansas, King's murder was only of passing interest. Most of my friends including myself loved to use the "n" word. In a town with less than a dozen blacks we could behave like brutish rednecks. But I watched the news regularly and was fascinated by King and his gospel of non-violent change for black Americans. I was profoundly saddened by his killing and when I shared my sorrow with some friends of mine the torrent of hate and ignorance made me realize that my friends had a very narrow view of the world.
Kennedy's assassination was even more difficult. The California primary was so exciting. I was too young to stay up and wait out the returns. I wanted Kennedy to win the nomination. I woke up early to watch the morning news to find out the results and instead learned that he had been murdered. You just got the feeling that the country was spinning out of control into complete chaos.
Watching the Democratic National Convention didn't change that view either. The DNC in Chicago that year made for perhaps the most compelling television that I can remember. The rioting, the down right thuggery on the floor of the convention and Chicago's despotic Mayor Richard Daley running the whole show. Read Norman Mailer's book "Miami and the Siege of Chicago" about the conventions because I believe it really captures the feelings of those times.
By the end of the convention I felt betrayed by Humphrey's nomination. I wasn't old enough to vote but I supported Nixon, even though he made me feel ill at ease. He was promising to end the war. Of course he only made it worse before it finally came to an end. My sister's had college age boyfriends and the fear of getting drafted was palbable. It was a fear that I would grow to know as I approached my 18th birthday and graduation from high school in 1974. I know there was a lottery in 1974 but the numbers were never issued. Fortunately the draft was actually ended about five months before my 18th birthday. I've got more on 1968 next time.